Pandemic pivot: Florida lockdown unlocked market for real estate agents

Catina and Robert Jones are considering an expansion of their Icon Realty Group to South Florida after travel restrictions kept them there in the early months of the pandemic. (Courtesy of Icon Realty Group)

Stuck in Florida for three months at the outset of the pandemic, it wasn’t long before Catina and Robert Jones started hearing from clients wanting to do what they’d just done: buy a vacation home in the Sunshine State.

The married real estate agents had purchased a condo in Fort Lauderdale just weeks before the pandemic’s arrival, and they were forced to stay for a while. Travel restrictions canceled flights back to Richmond.

While they weren’t initially licensed to sell real estate in Florida, the owners of Rocketts Landing-based Icon Realty Group decided to hunker down and make the most of their time there.

“We started getting so much interest and so many referrals, we were having to refer the business out to other local agents,” Catina said in a recent interview. “We said we really need to look at this and consider that this might be an opportunity.”

Catina is now licensed and actively selling in South Florida, while Robert is in the process of getting licensed. The couple is dividing their time between Richmond and Fort Lauderdale, where they’ve bought a new second home and are hanging their licenses with the local office of Compass, a national brokerage headquartered in New York.

Catina said their work in Florida is allowing them to feel out the market and lay the groundwork for what she says could become an expansion of their business.

“We’re giving ourselves a chance to learn the market, learn the buyers and sellers here, and see if there’s an opportunity for expansion,” she said in a call from their Florida home.

“We have several Richmonders that have reached out to us and want to buy a second home or a vacation home in the area. That’s really what we’re looking for: to market ourselves as a coastal connection,” Catina said. “We don’t know immediately if it’s going to turn into a second Icon location, but we’re hopeful.”

Icon Realty Group is located in a 2,200-square-foot space in Rocketts Landing at 210 Rocketts Way. (BizSense file)

Since swapping a condo in Fort Lauderdale for a house in nearby Parkland, Catina said she and Robert travel back and forth every couple weeks, working residential and commercial real estate deals in Florida while continuing to run their respective sides of Icon Realty.

Robert runs the Icon Commercial division, which they added after the couple married and became business partners.

Since starting the brokerage in 2016, Catina has guided Icon from an initial five or six agents to its current headcount of about 50. After an 800-square-foot storefront in Church Hill, she moved the business to a larger, 2,200-square-foot space in Rocketts Landing, where it remains based at 210 Rocketts Way.

She said the addition of Robert and the commercial division has taken Icon in new directions and the firm has had a good year despite COVID. Specific sales figures and listing numbers weren’t provided.

“I was just fine with a smaller brokerage concept, the boutique brokerage, because we were running it more as a team and we were all working together to work our business,” Catina said. “When Robert and I became husband and wife and business partners, he brought a new vision of growth to the table.”

The section of 36 homes called North Hills at Armstrong Residence will be built near an apartment building under construction, visible in the distance. (BizSense file)

On the residential side, the Richmond office recently added a few dozen more listings to its workload. The brokerage is starting sales on a 36-home section at Armstrong Renaissance, the massive redevelopment of the former Armstrong High School site along North 31st Street in the city’s East End.

Called North Hills at Armstrong Renaissance, the section of for-sale attached and detached homes holds special significance for Catina, whose father was an Armstrong graduate. The three- and four-bedroom homes will be priced between $225,000 and $350,000, with eight of the homes set aside for first-time buyers who are eligible to receive up to $15,000 in down payment assistance.

“As we market this community, we also continue to celebrate its history,” she said. “We don’t want to be forgotten what was there before and why it was there.”

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David Seibert
David Seibert
16 days ago

Love it! Living the dream!